RepositoryLancashire Archives
LevelCollection
Reference numberDDX 162
TitleRecords of Culshaw and Sumners, architects and surveyors of Liverpool
Date19th cent - 20th cent
DescriptionThe collection comprises just over six thousand items, most of which are architectural drawings or plans. Over a thousand of these are not designs for buildings, but were made in connection with survey work. There are unfortunately no letter books, account books, or other business records. The only exceptions, apart from a very few letters interleaved with drawings, are two books in which Alfred Culshaw kept a record of survey work done between 1874 and 1886 and 1904 and 1916.

The collection includes a number of drawings by architects who were not members of the firm, such as William Burn and Sydney Smirke, with whose buildings Culshaw and Sumners presumably had some indirect involvement. There are also some drawings dating from after Alfred Culshaw ceased practice, which have no obvious connection with his work or with that of William Culshaw and Henry Sumners. It is possible that these were added to the collection in error, after it entered the Lancashire Record Office.

A few buildings mentioned in authoritative sources as having been designed by Culshaw and Sumners do not feature in DDX 162, for instance Holy Trinity church, Southport, and the Southern Hospital, Liverpool. Evidently, therefore, DDX 162 does not represent the entire output of the firm. However, there are no large gaps in the chronological sequence of surviving drawings, which makes it likely that the collection is substantially complete.

Drawings for at least one major project were removed from the collection shortly after the partnership between William Culshaw and Henry Sumners was dissolved. Culshaw & Sumners had been appointed architects for the new Town Hall at St Helens in April 1872, and when the partnership ended the newly independent Sumners took over the project. However, under the terms of the partnership Culshaw retained ownership of all drawings, so Sumners had to pay him £350 for the plans that he, Sumners, had drawn. It is possible that drawings for other projects were similarly transferred after the dissolution of the partnership. Sumners undertook at least one independent work during his time with Culshaw, the Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas in Berkley Street, Liverpool. Drawings for this are not in the collection.
Background InformationWilliam Culshaw was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire. His obituary in the Liverpool Mercury noted that he had not 'enjoyed the advantages of an architectural education', implying that he trained under his father, 'a small joiner and builder'. The same source says he left Ormskirk for Liverpool around 1834 to join Messrs Leather and Riding, a firm of architects and surveyors. DDX 162 includes two drawings signed by Leather and Riding and dated March and April 1834, for a commercial building facing Canning Place in Liverpool. It is likely that this was one of the first projects on which Culshaw worked after his arrival. According to the Mercury obituary, while he was with Leather and Riding the junior partner died, and Culshaw took over as Clerk of Works on a building for the merchant and property owner Launcelot Graham. This was probably the first phase of Rumford Court in Rumford Place. The client was pleased, and the experience must have helped propel Culshaw towards an independent career. The earliest drawing in the collection that bears the signature 'Wm Culshaw Archt' is dated May 1836. By 1839, he was listed in Gore's Liverpool directory as 'William Culshaw, architect and surveyor'.

Already in his mid twenties when he came to Liverpool, Culshaw was nevertheless still financially dependent on his father. It is a measure of the opportunities available in the booming port, as much as Culshaw's abilities, that by the time he died, forty years later, he occupied one of the larger houses in prestigious Rodney Street, and according to the Calendar of Probate left property approaching £140,000 in value.

According to his obituary in the Daily Post, 'Although Mr. Culshaw combined with his principal business of surveyor and valuer the profession of architect, he did not profess to shine in that capacity, preferring rather that work in which he had a special aptitude'. The Mercury went further, stating that he 'had little taste for architecture, and his practice, therefore, must be regarded as purely appurtenant to his employment as a surveyor.' Just over a thousand of the drawings in DDX 162 are surveys, at least a third of which were produced during William Culshaw's working life. Nevertheless, the collection shows that Culshaw was also a prolific designer of buildings for more than twenty years, until 1861. It was in this year that he teamed up with the more creative Henry Sumners (1825-1895), handing over the architectural side of the business to him.

Sumners, a generation younger than Culshaw, had a very different professional formation. The best biographical account is contained in a report of his funeral in the Liverpool Mercury. Born in Liverpool, the son of a boot maker with a shop in Bold Street, Sumners was articled to the young Birkenhead architect Charles Reed (d. 1859). After completing his articles, he worked for a period in London 'with Mr. Barry [presumably Charles Barry (1795-1860)] and other architects'. From London, he undertook a 'pedestrian tour' through France and Italy from 1848 to1849, journeying as far as Rome, before returning to his native town by the end of 1852. Having taken charge of the architectural department in Culshaw's office in 1861, he became his partner in 1866, remaining so until early in 1873, the year before Culshaw's death.

At the very end of his life William Culshaw entered into a new partnership with his eldest son, Alfred (1849/50-1926), and in Gore's Liverpool directory for 1874 the practice is listed as 'William Culshaw & Son' for the first time. The directories for 1876 and 1877 name the practice as 'William Culshaw & Sons', Alfred apparently having been joined by his brother, William H. Culshaw, after their father's death. In 1878 it reverts to 'William Culshaw & Son', remaining so until it appears in the directory for the last time in 1916.

Culshaw and Sumners as architects

(The following notes refer chiefly to work carried out before William Culshaw's death in 1874, and not to the subsequent work of Alfred Culshaw.)

The bulk of the firm's output was in Liverpool and its immediate hinterland. Culshaw and Sumners occasionally designed country house additions and estate buildings as far away as North Wales, Shropshire, and Staffordshire, but these commissions always came from Liverpool businessmen or their families or associates. During their years together, neither William Culshaw nor Henry Sumners appears to have had any great interest in developing a national practice by entering architectural competitions. Drawings for cemetery chapels at Ipswich and a workhouse at Market Drayton are exceptional examples of competition entries for buildings beyond Merseyside. In general, they were kept fully occupied by the demands of Liverpool's prodigious 19th-century expansion.

The firm's output reflects both the prosperity and the pressing social problems of maritime, mercantile Liverpool. Warehouses feature prominently, as do maritime-related industrial premises such as foundries, a cooperage, rice mills, a sugar refinery, a paint factory and a ship's biscuit bakery. There are designs for respectable hotels and luxury shops in Bold Street, but also for dockside pubs and a pawnbroker's. Charitable and other institutions - to meet the needs of a poor and disadvantaged urban population - include ragged schools, a home for discharged prisoners, a girls' reformatory, and enormous workhouses for the West Derby Union at Walton and Toxteth (the practice also designed workhouses for other Poor Law Unions in the North West). There are several churches, serving poor areas as well as affluent suburbs.

Two types of building predominate: office blocks, and middle class housing. With a local economy based on trade and commerce, Liverpool needed an abundant supply of offices for rent. Purpose-designed office blocks, built speculatively by private investors, began to appear near the Exchange in the 1830s, Rumford Court being one of the earliest. William Culshaw went on to make a speciality of such buildings, and the firm designed more than thirty in all, making DDX 162 an invaluable source for understanding the design of Victorian offices. Many of the firm's schemes show an adventurous approach to natural lighting by means of multiple sash windows under continuous cast-iron lintels. The mercantile elite also needed homes. Culshaw began his Liverpool career when house-building in the affluent Mosslake Fields area (centred on Abercromby Square and Falkner Square) was coming to an end, but he was in time to design 70 Upper Parliament Street for the shipbuilder Thomas Royden and 29 Falkner Square for the merchant Richard Rowlinson. From the early 1840s, terraced town houses of this type increasingly gave way to suburban villas, and Culshaw designed over fifty such residences, and made extensions or alterations to almost as many more. Some were commissioned for owner-occupation while others were evidently built speculatively. Many were in south Liverpool, at Aigburth or Mossley Hill; others were at Seaforth or Crosby, or across the Mersey at Liscard or New Brighton.

With regard to style, Culshaw was essentially a late Georgian architect. For churches he used Gothic of a rather unscholarly kind, and some of his houses have Tudor details, but the majority of his buildings were unimaginatively classical. By 1861 his work would have looked old-fashioned, and it was probably partly for this reason that he recruited Sumners to join him. The younger man, with his formal architectural training, London credentials and experience of foreign travel, injected a modern, High Victorian character into the firm's work. This is clear from the contrast between, for instance, Sumners's 1864 design for Berey's Buildings in George Street - polychromatic, with a mix of Gothic and early Renaissance features - and Culshaw's much more conventional, Italianate, palazzo-style Apsley Buildings of 1855 in Old Hall Street. The change was noted by the architect and critic Thomas Mellard Reade, writing in the local magazine The Porcupine, who compared the Savings Bank of 1861in Bold Street with the National Bank of 1863 in Cook Street, and observed that the architect's work must have experienced 'some decided influx of talent' in the intervening years.

Many of the drawings are inscribed with the client's name, making them a rich source of information about architectural patronage in Victorian Liverpool. Apart from survey work in connection with railway expansion, there is no single, outstanding source of employment, but patterns can be discerned that suggest the important role played by informal networks in obtaining work. Businessmen with offices close to Culshaw's in Rumford Place (C.E. Dixon, Edgar Garston, Edward Bates, James Murdock and C.K. Prioleau) turned to him with their domestic commissions. Some clients were linked by blood or marriage (Sir John Bent was the son-in-law of John Davenport of Staffordshire, and his daughter married Robert Frank of Aigburth), some by professional association too (Samuel Marshall Bulley and W. Winter Raffles were brothers-in-law as well as business partners, as were Edward Hatton and Thomas Worthington Cookson).

Certain families, notably the Grahams and the Horsfalls, employed Culshaw consistently throughout his career. The fact that mercantile patrons like these also served on a range of charitable committees and in various company boardrooms may have brought further work: G.H. Horsfall, for example, was president of the Southern Hospital, a director of the Royal Insurance Company and chairman of the Poor Law Guardians for Toxteth Park - three organisations that employed the firm extensively. Described in his Mercury obituary as 'a zealous politician of the ultra Tory type', it would be surprising if Culshaw did not obtain work from clients who shared his party allegiance, and yet alongside Tories such as James Bland and T.B. Horsfall there are also prominent Liberals such as P.H. Rathbone and John Hays Wilson. In the end, political, familial or business ties may have counted for less than clients' direct knowledge of the firm's work, with many simply making the safe choice of a practice whose buildings they already knew from neighbourhood examples. The clustering which is a notable feature of the firm's output tends to support this view: examples include a series of extensions to neighbouring West Derby villas, a clutch of Bold Street shops, several commercial buildings bordering Canning Place, and, most obviously, the numerous office blocks around the Exchange.

The Culshaw and Sumners drawings were deposited in the Lancashire Record Office by Edmund Kirby & Son of Liverpool, architects and surveyors, on 6 January 1951 (it is worth noting that the Liverpool Record Office, perhaps a more logical home for the collection, was not established until 1953). It seems likely that when Alfred Culshaw ceased practice the business was taken over by Edmund Kirby & Sons, who thus acquired the drawings. Edmund Kirby & Sons' own papers, which were later deposited in the Liverpool Record Office, contain drawings by Culshaw and Sumners for part of Borough Buildings at the corner of Water Street and Covent Garden.
ArrangementThere seems to be no record of how the collection was arranged when it was deposited in 1951. Except for a number of fragile, damaged or unusually large items, the drawings are now kept in rolls within boxes. While the arrangement in boxes seems to date from after the drawings were deposited, the content of the individual rolls is probably largely as it was in the architects' office. This is suggested by many rolls having the client's name, or the name of the relevant building, written prominently on the back of the outermost drawing in what appears to be a 19th-century hand.

Generally, each roll contains drawings for a single client. Some rolls contain all the drawings for a single building, but drawings for large or complex projects are sometimes spread over two or more rolls. Some rolls contain drawings for multiple projects for the same client, or for additions or alterations to the same building carried out over a number of years. In some cases, unfortunately, drawings for different projects and different clients have become mixed together in the same roll, while drawings for the same project have been split between different rolls.

The present numbering system was apparently created in the mid-1980s, when details of each drawing were recorded on paper slips by people on a Community Task Force work experience programme. The number for each drawing consists of the prefix DDX 162, followed by a box number, followed by a sheet number. It seems that no attempt was made to arrange the drawings within each roll in a logical order before numbering, nor was there any attempt to reunite drawings which had become separated from others for the same project. In 2007, the information on these slips was typed into a database by a volunteer.

In 2008-9, the collection was the subject of a research project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, carried out under Professor Neil Jackson of the School of Architecture at the University of Liverpool. As part of this project, the drawings were individually checked against the database and errors and inconsistencies were corrected, but no attempt was made to renumber the collection. Notes on many individual buildings were added to the database, and this introduction was written, by the Project Researcher, Joseph Sharples.The resulting catalogue was made available on-line in 2009.
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